Volume 42 ~ 2019
This Is Where I Am From
A sunset painted onto ever-darkening sky,
The outline of a lonely hay bale on the tippity-top of my favorite hill,
Dogs barking, crickets chirping,
Wind whisking across ocean of wild grass.
This is where I am from.
Rain tastes sweet, frogs come out to play,
Fireflies dance, become Christmas lights in June.
When it’s time to go inside for supper,
Daddy rings the bell,
The one I helped nail to that old post.
This is where I am from.
The hamburgers are always homemade,
Prayers are heartfelt.
Everything is raw and real.
Mommy’s pushing comes from love,
Nothing is given for free.
Dancing by myself under the stars, reading a book by candlelight, climbing that collapsing old barn.
This is where I will always be from.
Annabelle has always had her place to escape
When the shouting was too much, the blows too hard, when storms began to brew
She would run run run to her house in the tree, where every adventure was always new
She would climb that beloved, rickety old ladder and play until the sky turned a darker shade of blue
For that house in the tree was more like home than home could ever be
Sometimes her treehouse was a pirate ship, where she sailed the dazzling seven seas
And sometimes her treehouse was a majestic ruby castle, so tall there were no limits to what you could see
Annabelle could be whoever she wanted to be
But in every story and every tale, she was always the hero up in that tree
The thing that made it most magical was that she always felt loved and free
Annabelle’s treehouse was special to her, but not the most special thing of all
For something even more special was that rickety old ladder that reached up so tall
Despite it’s desolate appearance, it made escape possible, and it would never let her fall
That ladder was her yellow brick road, her rainbow
And at the end of her rickety old ladder was her world of gold
Everything must come to an end
Sometimes, it’s possible to lean on something too much, and that something will almost always break
Papa got mad when Annabelle forgot to bring the funny smelling bottle to him and his friend
And Annabelle knew to hide when Papa got mad, even though she hadn’t meant to offend
So Annabelle ran and ran to her little treehouse and ladder, the things she could always count on, the things she would always defend
She pulled the ladder up next to her, locked the trap-door
Where she sat with her seemingly only friend
She curled up next to her ladder and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to ignore her father’s loud, slurred words
She pretended she was high in the sky, balancing on her rickety old ladder, flying high with the birds
Annabelle was only 6 years old
And long overdue for her nap
So she closed her eyes to dream of sitting in Mommy's lap
And of playing with Momma in that treehouse, of learning how to whistle and snap
Laughing so hard when Momma got her hair stuck in tree sap
Of crying when Momma got so sick she lost her hair and could barely move
And then Momma closed her eyes and wouldn’t wake up, no matter how hard Annabelle shook her
Annabelle’s sleep was so deep, she didn’t notice the smell
Nothing could wake her, not the smoke shrouding her treehouse, the flames licking at her beloved ladder, not even her father’s furious yells
She didn’t scream or feel pain when she let go
Not even when her father poured kerosene on the dry wood of her treehouse, and struck a match
Not when he kept fueling the raging inferno
When he decided he’d had enough of this, of everything, he laid down and let the flames set his skin aglow
And when father and daughter opened their eyes again, it was to bright, blinding light
Along with Momma, standing there wearing a gown so white
Together, the three of them joined hands, held on tight
And, then they began to forget, which Annabelle didn’t think was right
For even though her parents wanted to forget the burning treehouse, the fear and pain and spite
Annabelle never completely forgot that night.
“No, sir. Yes, sir. No, sir. Of course not, sir. Yes, sir. I understand, sir. Thank you, sir.” Go to hell, sir. Die in a hole, sir. Kiss my derrière, sir.
I don’t say any of those things out loud, of course.
Disconnecting the call, I slam the phone down and scream. Whirling around, I snatch up a pillow and start punching it.
“That selfish, egotistical, narcissistic, conceited, vain, self-centered son of a-,” I cut off my rant as Camellia lets out a cry. She’s getting hungry, I think.
Taking a deep breath, I try to calm myself. Camellia needs me. No more breakdowns. But I don’t want to keep bottling it up. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I mentally slap myself. Stop being so dramatic, Jasmine. Suck it up, be a big girl.
Looking up, my shoulders sag. Saying my studio apartment is humble is an understatement. When you first walk in, you’re assaulted by the living room. I have a loveseat that doesn’t feel very loving on my butt and back. My miniature thrift-store coffee table has ratty old pillows set up around it; it’s my desk and dinner table. The windows all have matching drapes on them, and in the back left corner is my tiny kitchen. The mini fridge, oven, microwave, and sink are all set into the wrap around counter.
There’s a hallway that leads back to the bathroom and electrical/laundry room. My old murphy bed is up right now, and I have a partition separating my “bedroom” from the rest of the house. I keep my few belongings, including my clothes and Cam’s stuff, on an old, sagging bookshelf I found at a garage sale a few years back. But right now I’m more interested in the living room floor, because that’s where Cam is.
She’s wriggling around on her blanket, trying to roll over. The only rooms without carpet are the kitchen, laundry/electrical rooms, and bathroom. I lay out a thick, comfy blanket for Camellia to play on because the carpet is worn and ratty. But she made the most of it, and worked up an appetite with all her squirming. Scooping her up from the ground, I settle into the worn loveseat. Slipping my shirt and bra off, she latches on and her cries cease almost immediately. Closing my eyes, I lean my head back against the wall. Tears slipping down my cheeks, I wipe them away, focusing on Camellia.
The landline rings again, but this time I ignore it. It’s either my editor, Eric, or Shauna, the boss of the little cafe I work in the mornings. Shauna allows me to bring Cam to work. Eric does not.
If I could, I’d quit my job at Caffeine-é (I didn’t come up with the name) and my job at the Genova Gazette. Both jobs are of poor quality, the former because of the handsy patrons and low pay, and the latter because ever since Sables Worldwide Media came to town, stock has been plummeting. With the help of my sisters, I managed to put together a job application for Sables. The pay is better, the hours are more flexible, and I hear the boss is intense, but understanding. He gives his employees second chances, and I need as many of those as I can get. But Sables hasn’t gotten back to me. I gave them my application a few months ago, right after Camellia was born. But I’m still not sure. What will happen to Cam? What if I’m not around as often? What if I can’t find a babysitter? Will I have to move out of my apartment? How will that affect Cam? What if--
Jumping, I jostle Camellia and she begins to cry. Rocking her and making shush noises, I wait until she calms down to answer. It’s my cell-phone this time. Shauna and Eric don’t have my cell-phone number. It’s probably one of my sisters.
Switching Cam to my left arm, I dig my phone out of my sling bag. I don’t do purses. They don’t fit diapers as well.
Frowning down at the number I don’t recognize, I tap accept.
Dread pools in my chest, seeping into my heart and making it even heavier. It takes me a moment to regain the ability to speak.
“Who else would it be? Were you expecting someone else?” his words are slurring and I can practically smell the alcohol on his breath through the phone. Tears sting my eyes. My day is already terrible, and now this? Why can’t he just leave me alone?
“No, I wasn’t. What do you want, Bradley?”
There is silence on the other end for a second. I know what is coming. It came every time he drunk dialed this early in the morning.
“I want you to know how much you ruined my life. Everything was fine until you came along. Did you know I lost my job? They said I haven’t been acting the same. It all started the day the little brat came along. Why couldn’t you get rid of it? Did you not love me enough? The little monster means more to you than me. The second it came along…,” he keeps going, but I wasn’t listening. Fury is slowly kindling in my heart, thawing the ice he’s placed there. He has no right.
Tears running down my cheeks, I end the call. The phone falls from my hand, and I gaze down at Cam. She looks at the phone, hiccups, giggles, and gives me a gummy smile. And I realize I don’t care what he thinks. Camellia is the best thing he ever gave to me. I don’t regret her, not for one second.
Laughing through the tears, I clutch her to my chest and bury my face in her peach fuzz. Sinking down to the floor, we stay like that for what seems like forever. When her tummy grumbles, I look up and see my phone. Setting my jaw, I stand and walk to the loveseat. I don’t know what will happen to us, but I do know one thing. It’s time for me to give Cam a chance.
The next day, I get a letter that isn’t a bill. The second after reading it, I grab Cam and drive to Eric and then to Shauna. I hand in my resignation forms to both of them.
“I’m so sorry, Miss Kent. It just happened so suddenly and I didn’t think--”
“It’s okay, Tess. Don’t apologize. Be there for your Grandpa. I’ll find another babysitter for Cam.”
“Thank you, Miss Kent! Thank you so much!” Tess says, relief shining through the cloud of her sour mood.
We say our goodbyes and hang up. I want to scream, but Cam is still sleeping. It’s my first day at Sables Worldwide Media and my usual babysitter’s grandpa has had a heart attack. The doctors say he’ll be fine, but I can’t in good conscious make Tess watch Cam while her grandpa is recovering. But that means I don’t have a babysitter. Glancing down at my watch, I grumble under my breath. I’ll have to figure it out later. If I don’t leave now, I’ll be late on my first day.
Stuffing Cam’s stuff into the car, I dial Mel, the head of my department and my designated mentor, and she picks up on the second ring.
“Hey, Jasmine. Are you ready for your-?”
“Hi, Mel. I’m so glad you picked up. I need help. I know that’s a terrible thing to say on the first day, but I can’t help it,” I say in a rush.
“Calm down. Tell me what’s wrong,” she commands in a soothing tone.
“Tess, my babysitter, was supposed to watch Camellia today, but her grandpa had an accident and now I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s okay! Just bring Camellia to work. No one will mind. For such a successful man, the boss is very laid back when it comes to family.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m positive. Now hurry! You’re gonna be late!”
“Right. Thank you so much, Mel,” I say, gratitude lacing every word.
“You’re very welcome,” Mel replies with a laugh.
I thank her again and then we hang up. Tossing my phone onto the passenger seat, I glance at the rear-view mirror and see Cam looking right back, her thumb in her mouth, giving me her signature toothless grin.
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you are serious trouble, missy. Oh wait,” I say dryly. She squeals and gurgles at me, laughing.
Smiling, I turn back to the road, thinking, I hope he’ll give me a chance.
Stepping out of the elevator, I stand there while people gush out around me. Cam is in a simple baby carrier across my front, and my sling bag with all our stuff in it is draped across my back. Through the sea of people, I catch a glimpse of Mel.
Rushing towards her, I hold Camellia closer. I often worry about proper head and neck support for her. It’s crucial for babies her age. Or so I’ve read. I’m not taking any risks when it comes to Cam.
Losing sight of Mel, I pause, feeling lost. And then there’s a hand on my shoulder steering me away from the crowd. I don’t resist. When we finally stop, I thank my savior, relieved as I see who it is. Mel is petite, and her platinum blonde, pink-tipped hair made me think of her as a pixie. She is 27, a year older than me. She’s cute in a girl-next-door kind of way. Her bright green eyes latch onto Cam.
“Oh! She’s adorable! She has your brown eyes! Although, her hair looks like it’s gonna be a lighter brown than yours. But other than that, she’s a mini version of you!”
Mel coos and fawns over Camellia for a bit before she snaps herself out of it and gets down to business.
“Okay. We need to get going. The boss wants to meet you,” Mel states.
Freezing, I stare at Mel. “W-what?”
“The boss wants to meet you,” she replies simply, like we’re talking about the weather. “Oh. Did I forget to mention that?”
“Yeah, you kinda did,” I manage between hyperventilating.
“Jasmine, relax. You’ll do great! Like I said, the big guy is so understanding. Don’t worry about it,” Mel pacifies.
But what Mel doesn’t know was that worrying is my thing. I’m amazing at it. Squeezing Cam tighter, I follow Mel to my desk, which is right by hers. The area is open, with frosted glass dividers separating each workstation. My little glass cubicle consists of a desk, computer (even though the company had already gifted me a new laptop), and a telephone. I’m all set. And there is plenty of room for me to set up Cam’s portable cradle. Putting all our stuff down, I take Camellia out of her sling and straighten my clothes. Taking a deep breath, I cradle her in one arm and look at Mel.
“I’m ready,” I say calmly, surprised my voice is steady.
Mel claps gleefully and we are on our way.
The double doors to the boss’s office are made of frosted glass, so I can just barely make out the boss sitting in his chair, looking out the window. I can’t make out any facial features or details.
Mel leans in and whispers, “He can see us cleary, but we can’t see him.”
And with that she raps on the doors. The blurry person turns towards us. Ducking my head down, I follow Mel through the door.
“Hey, boss,” Mel says. And then she promptly turn tails and leaves me all alone. Glaring at her retreating figure, I glance at the boss only to find him looking at me.
His eyes are deep blue, and his hair jet black. He has a crooked nose that looks like it’s broke a time or two. There is a small scar on his temple and another slashing through his upper lip. I’m 5’10” and even I have to look up to see him. He is at least 6’4”.
He’s so handsome. Help me.
“....... Ms. Kent?” he says for the fourth or fifth time.
My face heats. Am I staring? Of course I’m staring. He’s beautiful.
Snap out of it, Jasmine. “Um, y-yes?”
Mentally, I’m banging my head against a brick wall.
The bane of my existence holds out his hand.
“You can call me Blake. Formalities don’t particularly agree with me,” he says, shaking my hand. His hands are rough with calluses, but his touch is gentle.
My mouth opens and closes like I’m talking, but no sound comes out. Come on, Jasmine.
He doesn’t seem to notice my awkwardness. Or maybe he does and is just pretending. I’m hoping it’s the former.
“Who is this?” he asks.
I frown, thinking he meant me. He smiles, revealing a gap between his front teeth, and nods down at Camellia. Oh. Smiling timidly, I gently maneuver Cam with expert hands until she’s facing Mr. Hunter. No, Blake.
His smile widens when he sees her face. She gives him a shy, sloppy smile. His entire being-- his face, eyes, mouth, body language, everything-- softens. I’m pretty sure I do too.
“She’s magnificent! Is she yours?” he asks politely.
“Y-yes,” I manage as the full force of his smile hits me. Is this what melting feels like?
“You and your husband are very lucky,” he says, his smile fading for some reason. I want to bring it back.
“I don’t have a husband. He’s out of the picture,” I reply, showing him my ringless finger. Smooth, Jasmine.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to assume anything,” he stumbles over himself, looking guilty. Huh. Who knew? Rich people can feel bad.
Blake smiles and laughs. And that’s when I realize I said that out loud. Staring at Mr. Hunter, I clap my free hand over my mouth, stunned and embarrassed.
“It’s okay, Ms. Kent. Don’t look so mortified,” he says in between laughs, knowing I felt bad and trying to put me at ease.
He’s so handsome.
I am so dead.